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GirlintheSun

This is the second installation of a novella that we are publishing in three parts in the April, May, and June 2021 issues of Stone Soup.

Chapter 10

It’s my first hip-hop class.

After suggesting it to my parents, they reluctantly agreed to send me for a tryout class.

“Swifty, I appreciate you wanting to try new things, but you’ve got to be dedicated. We have to spend our money wisely,” my mom says.

I’m dressed in a thin, white, cotton T-shirt with black leggings. My feet are adorned in running shoes. A backpack sits on my shoulders, stuffed with snacks and bottles of water.

I’m not taking any chances. I rewatched the news piece that inspired me, and the style of dance looks tiring—constantly moving with skilled flips and spins which look impossible. Or that could just be because I’ve never done it before.

After following Google Maps, my dad and I have ended up outside a grey warehouse. A logo’s been sprayed onto one side with vivid purple paint. The words read “Macie’s Dance Studio.” There are two wide doors graffitied with bubble words and wacky illustrations.

“See you in an hour.”

My dad nods. He holds open the door for me, and I walk inside.

There’s a small reception room, an island desk with graffiti on the sides, the table purple.

A woman with a short ponytail and a baggy grey T-shirt notes dates on a small notepad and calls someone’s name. A young boy stands up from a red leather couch on the right side of the room. His mother’s flicking through a gossip magazine, the cover of it bold with provocative sentences featured in highlighted text.

A coffee table with competition advertisements piled in the center stands proud, like it’s won first place at the Olympics. The walls are splattered with model-esque monochrome posters, dancers reaching up to the sky, mid-somersault, collaborating. At the back end of the room, there is a door that looks like it would belong in a school classroom leading to rows of studios lined up behind each other.

Just then, a middle-aged woman storms through the door in sporty wear. She’s got mousey-brown hair loosely tied up into a bun, while her cheeks are flaming red.

“Lyla!” she says irately. “Our best student has quit!”

Lyla smiles. “Masie, I’ve got a class to take right now, and we have a new student we need to take care of, but I’ll help you later. Is Swifty here?”

I shyly raise my hand.

Lyla nods, and we both walk through the doors into the dance studio.

When we make it inside, there are some other girls and a few boys warming up, chatting to each other calmly. Unlike the ballet class, which had very similar-looking people, there’s a mixture of different sizes and ethnicities, which is really cool to see.

To start off, I have to do some stretches and simple moves, which Lyla teaches me.

Next, she talks about the kinds of moves I’ll be doing in class, while the others work on a complicated dance they’ve been learning.

“So, there are four key kinds of movements: up, down, bounce, and drop,” she says, gesturing as she does so.

“First we’ll learn ‘up.’ This is where your body rocks upward, like this.” She shows me a movement. It’s strong but relaxed. I copy her.

We continue to do the move until I’ve got it.

Next, we move on to down, then bounce and drop.

I don’t remember much else. The class is so fun that time passes like a racing car. By the end of it, I’m sweating a gushing river, but I feel great.

“Swifty, you did awesome today!” Lyla exclaims. “With progress, you can be even better!”

I can see my dad staring through the door. He catches my eyes and gives me a thumbs-up.

“How was it?” he asks cheerfully as we walk back to the car. “Awesome,” I reply. “Awesome.”

Chapter 11

It’s the day of the Milky’s ad audition. To be honest, I haven’t really thought much about it with all that’s been going on lately.

My dad drives me over to the venue because my mum’s got a test to see how she and my brother are doing.

The venue is a small theater around our neighborhood. The outside is painted a creamy color.

We walk inside and I get a name tag and badge. A staff member guides us to the main theater, and we walk past rows and rows of empty front seats. My dad gives me a hug when we reach the end.

“Good luck,” he whispers, then joins the other parents at the back of the theater. I make my way backstage. My hands are super cold, and my legs feel shaky.

A middle-aged man calls out names and points to spots in the line, just like at the orchestral concerta. I turn out to be one of the first in the line, probably because my last name starts with “A.”

Whenever I hear the words “baby” and “brother” put together, I immediately feel jealous and scared. What will life be like after my brother is born?

Stella’s a bit further down. I can see her talking to someone who must be one of her acting friends. If only I had someone to talk to.

I like being first to perform because you can get it over and done with quickly, but at the same time, you want to be toward the middle so you can see how everything works.

Luckily, one of the judges comes backstage and gives us a quick talk on how the auditions will run.

“It would be best if you memorized the words,” he says, “but we have a teleprompter going just in case.”

Once he leaves, I nervously jump up and down on the spot. Come on, Swifty. You got this, my inner pep talker says.

But I haven’t got this. Last night, I was watching my older audition tapes and . . . I was terrible. I don’t think I have it in me to be an actor. My nervousness suddenly turns into regret.

And with that, I apologize shyly and profusely, walk out of the audition line, and get my dad.

“Let’s go home now,” I say.

He gives me a questioning glance, but he lets the organizer know and then together we quickly walk out of the building.

Chapter 12

“So, how was the audition?” my mum says curiously, fiddling with her fork as we sit around the dinner table.

My dad glances at her, sending one of his top-secret parent signals.

She sighs. “Oh, sweetie, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay, Mum,” I reply sheepishly. “I just don’t think acting is my thing.”

“Hmm . . .” She smiles empathetically. “Well, would you like to hear some news about your baby brother?”

I stare down at my plate. Whenever I hear the words “baby” and “brother” put together, I immediately feel jealous and scared. What will life be like after my brother is born?

“Sure,” I mumble.

“Well.” My mum grins ecstatically. “He seems to be very healthy. And,” she adds, “he’ll be here in a few months’ time!”

“W-W-WHAT?!” I stammer. No no no no no no no. This cannot be happening. I want time to freeze. I want to go back to the day before my mother announced I was having a baby brother. Nothing will be the same again! I don’t want this to happen. Please, no. No no no—

“Swifty, you’ve gone a bit pale,” my mother points out carefully. My teeth start chattering.

“I. Don’t. Want. A. Baby. Brother!” I shriek.

“Zendaya Appledoe, do not yell!” My dad frowns.

“I know you don’t love me anymore,” I cry.

I push my chair away from the table and bolt away from my parents. I swing open the front door like it’s a useless thin curtain and tear down my street, streetlamps glowing against the evening sky, then around the corner.

I am the fastest girl on Earth, my shoeless feet slapping against the pavement. I can feel blunt, hard rocks underneath my feet, punching me repeatedly. I can hear my parents’ voices floating alongside the wind, but I don’t listen. Adrenaline is taking over me once again, and I feel like there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

I make it to the end of the road and stop for a second to check for cars. None.

I’m about to sprint across the road when all of a sudden, headlights appear out of nowhere. A revving sound startles me.

No no no—

All of a sudden, hands grasp around my shoulders and pull me back.

“Dad!” I scream.

He hugs me hard.

“Zendaya Appledoe, don’t you ever do that again,” he mutters, his voice wobbling softly. My mum grabs my hand and squeezes it.

With that, together we walk back home.

*          *          *

“Now, Swifty,” my mum starts sternly. “Why are you upset about having a sibling?”

“Just because . . .” I gulp. “I’m worried you won’t love me anymore. All the other girls at my school talk about how annoying their brothers are. And I know you’re bored of me.” I sob, tears rolling down my cheeks like rocks down a mountain, dripping off of my chin like it’s a leaky pipe.

My mum stands up and gives me a really nice, soft hug.

“You’re worried that we won’t love you after your brother is born. Jerry, do you want to tell her why we decided that Swifty should have a brother?”

My dad nods.

“Swifty,” he says. “At the very start of the year, your teacher, Mrs. Mulberry, called us in for a meeting.” He continues: “She said that you were having a lot of trouble making friends.” I nod, totally embarrassed. “And we’ve seen this for a while now. We thought if you had a sibling, you wouldn’t be so lonely.”

I nod in acknowledgement. I guess that does make sense. I smile.

Now I feel a little bit better about my baby brother.

Chapter 13

After a very dramatic night, today is very relaxed.

“Hey, Swifty, remember a while ago you wanted to learn the drums?” my dad ponders as we play catch in our backyard. It’s small, but it works. None of us like gardening much anyway.

“Mhmm,” I reply, lost in thought.

“Well, do you still want to do it? If you do, though, you’ve got to be committed.”

I pull myself out of my daze and blink. “I still want to do it, Dad, but I don’t want to go on my own.”

I don’t want this to be a repeat of the violin and ballet classes I took, where I was the odd one out. I need to be with others who are in the same boat with me.

“Well, do you know anyone who plays the drums?” Dad asks. I try to remember someone.

Taj. The guy who sat on my desk. The sporty, careless guy.

I remember that he plays the drums in the school band. I don’t really want to talk to him, but if I want to play the drums I’ll need to step out of my comfort zone.

So the next day at lunch, I awkwardly tap him on the shoulder.

He spins around, clutching a soccer ball in his arms, a baggy Real Madrid shirt slouching from his thin shoulders.

“What?” he grumbles, his eyes incinerating mine.

Immediately, my face turns bright red, and an invisible person starts to punch my stomach. This is exactly why I don’t like to talk in front of others.

“U-u-umm.” I stutter yet again. It’s annoying when I do this; it’s almost always about the littlest things. You might not be able to tell, but I express a lot of social awkwardness. I find it hard to say what I want to say at times.

“I’m just c-curious, be-because . . . I WANT TO TAKE DRUM LESSONS,” I blurt boldly before my stuttering can get the best of me.

“Oh.” Taj looks strangely at me, which can’t be a good thing. “And how can I help you with that?”

Hmm.

“Well, where do you take yours?” I blush.

“The school has classes you can take. Reasonable price,” he answers, tossing the soccer ball between his dark brown hands.

“Are there group lessons?” I blurt before I forget.

“Yeah. Well, see ya.” He waves to his friends, who are wandering aimlessly, impatiently waiting for the game to begin.

I watch for a few moments as the ball is effortlessly passed between players before it’s tackled out of sight.

*          *          *

I squirm in the unfashionably small school seat I’m sitting on. It’s got an ugly stripey pattern going across its cloth—vivid red, green, and bright blue.

We’re in a small soundproof room, blue carpeting running up the walls. Posters of bands and art that past students have done are tacked up above an old, worn-out drum kit opposite the door. Guitars have been balanced to the side, polished surfaces dented.

Three others are sitting next to me: a girl with limp, mousey hair picking at some fabric and a boy who must think he looks like a rock star when he just looks a bit . . . weird. He’s in all black, with long hair mortifyingly styled into a mohawk. I grimace.

A friendly looking man with short brown hair and greyish stubble claps his hands. He’s in a black shirt with some kind of ’80s band logo printed on its front.

“Hi, I’m Dave, and I’ll be your drums teacher for the year.”

We all introduce ourselves, and the lesson begins.

“Who’d like to go first?” he asks gently. He can definitely tell none of us are comfortable.

We’ve just learned a small beat on a kind of drum he’s handed out. I think it’s called a snare. The sound it makes is kind of like a rattly hiss mixed in with a clap, and the drum is about as tall as a chair leg.

I really don’t want to go yet in case I mess something up, but the others seem to annoyingly feel the same way, which means I’m going to have to be the one to step up.

I delicately raise my hand and start to tap the beat out with a pair of dented drumsticks. It’s called a paradiddle because of the way it sounds.

Right left right right, left right left left.

Unconsciously, I bite my lip. Did I mess something up?

Ka pai, Swifty, firstly for volunteering and secondly for getting it right the first time.” Dave smiles.

I grin shyly and grip my sticks hard. The lesson continues.

The girl and the boy seem to loosen up a bit, but neither looks particularly interested.

The boy, or as I later find out, Jared, sounds like he knows everything, but when Dave asks him to play, he just shrugs and mutters an unheard excuse.

The girl, Linda, seems like she was dragged into the music lesson. She tries, but she looks uncomfortable.

So I decide to combat my social awkwardness and start talking to her. “Hey.”

“Umm . . . hi.”

“How are you finding the class?”

“I mean, it’s okay. I was actually originally meant to do piano, but the teacher got booked out.”

“Well, I think drums are way more fun than piano.”

“I guess you’re right.” She smiles. “My grandad’s into classical music. He wanted me to learn the piano. He worked at Dux Orchestral Academy. Maybe you’ve heard of him?”

Dux Orchestral Academy?

“Umm, what’s his name?”

“Darius Cello. He can be a bit strict at times, but he’s nice.”

Cello. Cello. I rack my brain. No, surely it can’t be. There are thousands of people with the surname Cello.

“As in, the violin teacher?” I mutter nervously.

“Yeah. He doesn’t work there anymore, though. He got a bad reputation because one of his students wasn’t happy with his teaching. She was actually interviewed in the New Zealand Herald. Terrible, isn’t it?”

Stones of guilt weigh down my stomach. “Uhh, yeah,” I mumble.

I nervously twist the drumsticks around as I clutch them in my cold, sweaty hands.

“Okay, guys.” Dave interrupts my remorseful train of thought. “That’s it for today. See you next week?”

As we leave the class, he holds out a cookie tin filled with chocolate chip biscuits. I take one and thank him.

Jared nods at Dave and picks up one before running down the hallway outside, fists pumping in the warm air.

Linda follows after me, hanging close by my side. “So, can we be friends?”

I swallow another wave of guilt and nod, stretching a fake smile across my sweaty face. What if she finds out?

“Cool! This sounds a bit soon, but do you wanna come over this afternoon? We can practice some skills, and I can show you some stuff . . .”

She trails off, blushing profusely. I glance at her.

“Sorry, it’s just I’ve never had any nice friends like you,” she says shyly.

“It’s okay. I’ll come over!” I reply.

As we head off in separate directions to our classrooms, a thought niggles my mind.

*          *          *

After school, I walk to Linda’s house with her.

The experience is as new for her as it is for me. I’ve never hung out with anyone until now.

We arrive at a cottage-like house completely out of place beside the neighboring houses. The exterior is painted creamy white, which glows below a sea-blue roof. Pink flowers bunch at the windows, and a lusciously green garden lies behind a rickety wooden white gate.

Linda unlatches the gate and beckons me to walk through. A thin gravel path winds toward the front door. We step inside her home.

Like the exterior, it is decorated like a Victorian cottage. Lifelike paintings and greyish photos of stern-looking people adorn the dark wooden walls, hanging above patterned antique furniture. The whole house smells musty, like a museum.

We drop our bags at the door. Linda leads me toward another room next to an aged kitchen where an old man sits on a rocking chair, eyes glued to a small flat-screen TV.

He has a bushy white beard tangled up in his beige tweed suit. The buttons look like they’re about to burst.

The screen in front of him flickers across his thick-rimmed glasses, which shield beetle-like eyes from the vivid light.

The thought that I was having before chatters from the back of my mind. My memory whizzes back to my first violin class.

Hmm.

The man in front of me looks eerily similar to my violin teacher.

“Grandfather.” Linda breaks the silence. Her voice echoes across the small room. The man jolts out of his daydream and twists his head to look at her.

“Linda!” he cries. He reaches over the arms of the chair for a quick hug. “How was school?”

His gaze flickers over to me, eyes scanning carefully.

“Good,” she replies uneasily. “Grandfather, this is Swifty! She’s my new friend.”

Linda’s grandfather seems to be lost for a second, but comes back. “Swishy . . . nice to meet you. You seem familiar.”

I don’t bother to correct him. I don’t want to seem too rude, and besides, it’s only a nickname.

He beckons to me to shake his hand.

I do. His palm is dry and cracked, hard white calluses lining the bottoms of his fingers.

“I’m Darius, Darius Cello. I used to teach violin at the Dux Orchestral Academy.”

Oh no. It can’t be.

But it is. It’s him.

“I used to take violin lessons there,” I blurt before I can stop myself.

“Swifty. I thought you were my friend. How could you have done this to my grandfather?!”

His lips thin, along with his eyes.

“Are you the person who—” he questions, his voice growing louder with every word. I interrupt.

Linda can’t know. She’s my only friend.

“H-hey, look! The nature channel sh-should be on in a few minutes!” I shout. I snatch the remote and change channels.

An old man’s soothing voice slices through the tension like a knife through butter. He has a quiet English accent, which is cut off by the shriek of a hawk.

It raises its talons just as they slide into the innocent flesh of its prey. I hope that’s not going to happen to me.

“You know, I enjoyed working at Dux Orchestral Academy.” Mr. Cello glares at me. His beetle eyes have become ants. “Until you came, I thought I would have a job there for life. But then it was all ruined. Because you had the nerve—”

“To p-play at the c-concerta!” I scream in fear.

Linda cocks her head and stares at the two of us.

“Swifty, did you learn the violin? That is so cool!” she squeals. I grin shakily. That was a close one.

We continue to watch the nature show. Mr. Cello stays quiet, but he looks grumpy. Eventually Linda switches off the TV and offers to make some afternoon tea. She leaves the room.

Mr. Cello glares at me through his glasses.

“Swishy, you are a very rude girl.” He frowns. “I can’t believe you would—”

“I kn-kn-know, right!” I jump in. “That d-documentary was outst-st-stand—”

“NO. I will not be interrupted again. You complained about my incredible teaching methods. You had me fired!” Mr. Cello bursts into tears. A boulder of guilt and remorse smashes me in the stomach.

“M-mr. Cello, I-I’m sorry,” I stutter.

Just then, Linda tears into the room.

“Grandfather!” she cries, wrapping him in a reassuring hug. “What’s wrong?!”

“Your friend SWISHY was the one who got me fired!” he shrieks.

My mouth drops open in shock. I’ve gone cold. Linda gapes at me in horror.

“Swifty. I thought you were my friend. How could you have done this to my grandfather?!” The look on her face is too heart-wrenching to describe.

“I’m sorry!” I cry before I sprint out of the room, tears streaming down my face.

I grab my bag and tumble outside, running down the gravelly path and hurriedly trying to unlatch the gate.

It won’t give.

Why won’t it give?!

It finally does.

I race down the street and run in the direction of where I think the school is.

I can see the sky turning a light pink and suddenly remember that I haven’t told my parents where I’d be.

I see a bus stop.

I run over, slump on the bench, and sob.

Chapter 14

“Are you ok, honey?” Through the blurred shield of tears obscuring my red eyes, a vague shape of a plump human takes form. They’re dressed in a large purple coat with a bright, flowery scarf slung around their shoulders.

The person sits down next to me as I rub my tears away, leaving thin, salty tracks across my face. They hand me a crumpled tissue, which I gratefully take and dab at my eyes with.

“N-no, I’m not okay,” I finally answer. “I’ve just lost my f-first friend, and my o-old violin teacher hates me. And m-my parents d-don’t even know where I am.” I blink at the stony ground. I can see a torn muesli bar wrapper, a ten cent coin, and a plastic cup.

I kick the cup between my feet. It has an airy, hollow sound to it.

“Well, firstly, dearie,” the person says, “you obviously never meant to hurt your friend. I mean, looking at you right now, you seem like you really care about them! And I don’t think you should worry about your violin teacher. They don’t sound very nice to me, if you know what I mean. You seem like a lovely person to me.” They pause for a moment. “I’m Connie, by the way, short for Connor. What’s your name?”

“Zendaya.” I sniff. “But everyone calls me Swifty.”

“Is it okay if I call you Swifty?” Connie asks.

“Yes.” I smile.

They check their watch and glance at the bus timetable.

“Well,” Connie remarks. “There’s a bus coming in about five minutes, heading to St. Luke’s Road. Do you live near there?”

I nod.

“Splendid! In the meantime, why don’t you call your parents? You can use my phone, if you want.” Connie hands me their phone. It’s got a rainbow roughly painted onto the case, with silver sparkles lining the edges.

I tap in the digits of our home phone number, then call.

The ringing sounds vintage, like a fifties phone. My stomach swirls briefly, like a whirlpool, until finally someone picks up.

“Hello?”

“Mum?!” Her voice is crackly from the reception, but it makes the sea tornado in my stomach a lot less chaotic.

“Swifty! Where are you? We’ve been looking everywhere! We were going to call the police.”

Connie stands up and leans out of the bus stop box, peering at the street sign. They beckon to me to pass the phone over.

“Hello! This is Connie Evans. Your daughter is with me and safe!” they cheerily exclaim. “We’re currently on Pinewood Road. There is a bus coming very soon though. Would you like me to take your daughter with me on it?”

I can hear a crackle.

“Awesome. Should be there in less than twenty.” Connie hands their phone back over to me.

“See you soon, Mum!” I say.

“See ya, love you,” she crackles.

We hang up just as a large blue bus with tinted windows swings around the corner. The doors puff exhaustedly open, and we both step inside.

Connie hands a folded-up piece of cash to the driver, who scarily looks like he’s about to fall asleep.

I grab a seat at the very back, stretching out on the wide space. The bus is pretty much empty, peak hour having already passed.

Connie skips to the back and smiles at me, planting themself delicately in the corner. The bus jolts forward, then steadily rolls off into the thin stream of traffic that dots the road. I stare out of the tinted window, watching the houses and shops outside whiz past. They are like streamers of bright colors enveloping the bus.

Eventually, we arrive at my house.

I can’t wait to see Mum and Dad.

I step outside into the chilly air. It hits me like a huge gust of wind. Connie follows me to the door as I ring our bell.

I can hear footsteps from inside the house before someone finally opens the door. It’s Dad.

“Zendaya!” he cries.

He scoops me up into a hug.

My mum sprints towards me. “Swifty!”

She hugs me, then Connie. “Thank you so much for taking care of her. Is there anything we can do for you?

Connie shakes their head. “No, it’s okay.”

“Would you like a ride home?” my dad asks. “It’s quite cold at the moment, and dark.”

Connie thinks for a moment.

“If it’s not too much trouble . . .”

“No problemo.”

My mum walks into our kitchen, painted a creamy yellow, and grabs a spoon. “I’ll make you some hot chocolate, Swifty.”

I follow her and sit down on a chair beneath the marble kitchen bench. The shelves containing multicolor packets and spices are a soft wood brown. Underneath them is a silver stove, then by that, checkerboard tiles blanketing the clean floor.

My mum opens a tin of chocolate powder and scoops out a dark brown mountain of it, emptying it into a large purple mug. Next, she walks over to the fridge and pours a cascading waterfall of milk into it. She sets it in the microwave and hits one minute on the timer, then joins me at the kitchen bench.

“So, tell me what happened.”

I pick at my fingernails, then begin.

Chapter 15

I start school reluctantly. It’s likely that I’m going to see Linda at some point during the day. What if she’s told everyone about what happened last night?

As I walk through the school gate, past the office, and toward my class, the worst possible scenario happens. We lock eyes.

She’s sitting on one of the benches outside her classroom.

As she sees me, she shakes her head and seems to project all of her sadness toward me. I nod acceptingly and carry on, remorse dragging me down. I open the classroom door and make my way to my desk.

There seem to be more people crowding around Stella’s desk than usual. Taj is leaning on my desk yet again.

I tap him on the shoulder, just before Mrs. Mulberry walks in, her high heels clicking on the linoleum floor.

“Good morning, class!” she says gleefully. “Good morning, Mrs. Mulberry!” we all reply. Stella’s fan club head out to their own classes.

“Now, class.” She turns all teachery and serious. “Elections for Term Four’s student council are underway. If you’re sitting here thinking, ‘I’m responsible and ready to take a leading role,’ then I suggest you try out. It’s good if you’re aiming for a student award this year. They’re in a week’s time. All you need to do is write a short, one-minute speech on why you should be a part of it, and present it to our class.”

I snap back to Earth.

I can see Stella grinning smugly. She’s the current councilor for our class this term, obviously. Brooke’s somehow been appointed her standby in case Stella’s sick on the day of a meeting, which she never is.

I take a deep breath. If Stella’s going to run for Term Four, then I am too.

*          *          *

Last night I was working on a speech for the student council, and I have a pretty good first draft. But normally the student councilors all do something cool to show their support for the community, and I have no idea what to do.

A coat drive? Sell lemonade? Have a bake sale? All of these are classic options, but I want to try something different.

So at lunchtime, I head up to the library and type in organizations I could help. One catches my eye.

It’s an organization called Locks of Love. They give wigs made of donated hair to kids who have lost their own hair. I subconsciously finger my long, curly black hair. It’s coming down to my waist. That should be definitely enough. And it’s a pain to brush in the mornings and tie up for school. I’ve always liked the look of short hair anyway . . .

My mind wanders for the rest of the day.

After school, I look up YouTube videos on how to cut your own hair from home.

Hmm. Seems simple enough. There are some videos of fails, but none of them look too bad.

“Dad, where are the kitchen scissors?” I ask as I wander into the living room.

“Hang on.” He rushes off into the kitchen, coming back with a fat pair.

“Here. Are you doing an art project or something?”

“Umm . . . kind of,” I reply slyly.

I tear upstairs to the bathroom sink, grabbing a hair tie on the way up.

I stare at my reflection in the mirror, shower and tub reflected behind me. Pale tiles line the shower stall, in a distorted pattern.

This is “before” me.

Yes. I am. I am going to make someone, somewhere in the world, feel special and awesome. I am going to give them my hair.

Wait. I want to remember this.

I race away to the bedroom and snatch my tablet from its charging station. Okay. I snap a quick picture of myself. Let’s see what “after” looks like.

I lock the bathroom door and tie my curly hair into a tight ponytail, just below the nape of my neck.

Oh my gosh. Am I seriously doing this?

Yes. I am. I am going to make someone, somewhere in the world, feel special and awesome. I am going to give them my hair.

I shakily grab the scissors and start cutting. “Shh, shh,” my hair whispers.

My head starts to feel lighter, my hair moving in a wave as I slice through the fibers. Wow. If this is what a bob looks like, this is great. My hair poofs up a lot more, but in a satisfying way. About three quarters of the way through, though, I hear my name being called. It’s my dad.

“Swifty, are you okay in there?”

“Uhh, yeah, just stomach pains. Owww!” I lie.

“Do you want me to come in? I’m coming in. You’ve been in there for about half an hour.”

Oh, shoot.

I hear the click of a key in the door. Oh no. What can I do? Hide the scissors? But where?

It’s too late.

The door swings open.

My dad gapes at me in utter horror.

His face has gone a shade of—well, lighter than his normal skin color. He clasps his hands to his mouth.

“Oh my gosh,” he whispers. Well, he didn’t actually say that. He said something else which I’m not going to write down. But it was still similar to “oh my gosh.”

“Swifty, what are you doing?!” he half whispers again, half shouts.

“I’m running for the student council,” I reply serenely.

“And do all the people running have to cut nearly all their hair off?” my dad asks waveringly.

“No, of course not!” I laugh. Okay, am I in shock? My dad definitely is. He looks like he’s seen someone jump off a cliff.

“Then why are you cutting your hair?” Oh no. He looks angry. Furious, in fact.

“Well, you see,” I explain. “Pretty much anyone who runs for student council does a good turn. And I was looking up organizations to help today and . . .” I pause. “I’m donating my hair to Locks of Love.”

My dad stares at me in awe. “I’m very angry at you,” he mutters. “But I am also extremely proud. But there will still be consequences, young lady. Now, may I finish cutting your hair?”

I nod shyly, and pass him the scissors. He snips the last few remaining strands.

“Erm, this needs a professional hairdresser,” he points out. “I’m gonna call one of my good friends.

Fifteen minutes later, a man arrives at our doorstep. He’s called McClinty Jones, and he’s wearing a lavish grey-striped tuxedo with pointy mauve leather shoes on his feet. Flashy gold-rimmed sunglasses adorn his nose.

“Hmm,” he mutters, stroking his browny-blond goatee.

He rummages through his hairdressing kit and finds a buzzer and a scrapbook.

“Zis bob is too short to fix. Pick a haystyle and I vill do it for you.” He sounds German.

I flip through the pages and stop on a picture. The model’s hair is shaved at the sides and long at the top.

“I want that one, please.” I point to the picture.

“Good choice,” he replies, and starts shaving and snipping away.

*          *          *

When I finally get to look at myself in the mirror, I gasp in astonishment. I look amazing!

McClinty’s styled my hair into a mohawk using scented gel, with dyed pink streaks running through.

“Thank you, man.” My dad stares at my reflection in surprise. “How much is it?”

“Nusink.” McClinty replies. “Svifty is dooving a good turn. I shall do von back.”

My dad shakes his hand, and with that, McClinty packs up his gear and sweeps my cut hair into a small pile in the center of the bathroom, which he maneuvers into a bag.

Soon he vanishes, like he was never here. Just in time as well. I can hear my mother’s car pulling into our driveway. My dad and I send a father-daughter glance to each other, kind of like his and mum’s parent one.

My dad grabs a towel hanging from the rack, and my chopped ponytail. “Let’s go down,” he says anxiously. We head downstairs, and as soon as we get to the bottom, he throws the sheet around me. All I can see is a sky blue and faint silhouettes moving around.

“Hey, honey!”

“Hi, honey.”

“Swifty and I have a surprise for you.”

“Okay—can I see now?”

“Err, sure. But first, let me warn you . . . err, we’ve cut her hair.”

“Oh my gosh! Swifty’s hair!”

“Err, yes.”

“Her beautiful hair!”

“So . . . she decided to cut her hair to donate!”

“What?! Oh gosh, what does she look like now?”

The towel is whipped off. Warm, bright light floods my eyesight.

I hear my mum gasp. I’m not sure if it’s in shock, horror, or surprise. Maybe all three. “Oh, Swifty! Are you sure you don’t regret this?” My mum rubs her eyes, aghast.

“Mum, I’m doing this to help a kid who’s feeling weird or uncomfortable about themselves. I want to make them feel better.”

She sighs in exhaustion and rubs her eyes again.

“It’s going to be hard to get used to. But I’m proud of you.”

Chapter 16

The next day, I wave goodbye to my parents as I head off to school. I’m pretty early because I’m walking there, which takes about half an hour. My mum’s having tummy aches, so she’s going to go get a check-up.

When I arrive at class, all eyes are set on me.

I’ve tied my hair up into a ponytail at the end, the pink strands brightening up my hair. The word that comes to me to describe it is crepuscular, although I’m not sure if that’s quite right.

“Wow,” a boy in my class says, his eyes widening in astonishment.

“Swifty, if I do say so myself, you look incredible!” a girl in my class compliments me. My inner self shrinks into a tight ball and starts rolling around.

Then Stella and her posse walk in.

“Interesting haircut, Swifty!” Stella smiles uncertainly. Karen speeds up her pace and hangs beside Stella as she whispers something hastily her ear, eyes darting toward me.

Now it’s Brooke’s turn. Great.

“Honestly, Swifty. I have told you this so many times and you never listen! You just think that the way you look doesn’t matter, but it does. You have terrible style. It’s going to take a long time for it grow back, but you’re still gonna look ugl—”

Oh no. Brooke, you went too far.

“Look, Brooke. You may think the whole world revolves around you, but that’s not the case. I cut my hair for charity, and a very nice guy styled it like this. You have no right to say that to me because I don’t see you lending a hand to anything or anyone.”

“You are a self-obsessed—”

Just as Brooke is about to brutally and theatrically attack, swinging her clawed fist, Mrs. Mulberry saunters into class.

“Good morning cla—GIRLS! Break it up!” she roars.

I jolt, and so does the rest of the class. Mrs. Mulberry never shouts. Well, unless it’s necessary.

“Now, what is going here?” she snaps. “Brooke, you first.”

“I was just walking into class, Mrs. Mulberry, and then SwISHY here tripped me up and called me a name!” Brooke lies, even going as far as to call me Swishy. Ugh. I hate her.

“Actually Mrs. Mulberry, that’s not the case,” Stella explains.

What?! Stella defending me?!

“It was just something that went out of control. Brooke did nothing wrong, but neither did Swifty.”

I wouldn’t agree with that, but Stella defended me! Maybe I don’t hate her as much as I used to. Well, just a teeny bit.

Stella avoids my gaze as I attempt to send her a thankful nod. I guess she’s not allowed to go against Brooke like that.

“Well then, class, we have a Korean lesson in twenty minutes. Room 4 has swapped times with us because they need to get on with something. So why don’t we head outside for a very quick game and—”

Suddenly Principal Fintan barges into the classroom, hidden panic stretched across his normally joyful face. He’s in a suit with a red tie, which looks way too serious for school. He’s young but already starting to bald, a small patch indiscreetly covered up with thin auburn strands.

“Sorry, Kate and Room 3, but I’m afraid we have an emergency. Swifty, could you come with me, please? Pack up all your things.”

I shoot a befuddled glance toward Mrs. Mulberry as I cram my books, drink bottle, and pencil case into my backpack. She shrugs and gives me a small wave.

I wave to my class awkwardly, and they all return the gesture back in a muddled way. I follow Principal Fintan up the hallway, school bags lining the path to his office. He clicks open the door, his name stuck on in 3D black letters, and invites me inside.

My grandma is sitting on one chair opposite his desk. Why is she here? Principal Fintan pulls out a chair for me and I lower myself down slowly.

He sits behind his desk, the cushion attached to his chair faintly hissing like a fart. I want to laugh, but the situation seems too serious so I don’t.

He types something into his laptop, set up to the side of his folder-strewn desk. In fact, there are folders everywhere. On bookshelves, tabletops, office bins, containers, and cubbies. A disorganized rainbow of information.

“G-g-grandma?” I splutter. “W-what’s g-going on?”

“Grace,” she mumbles. Wait. That’s my mother’s name. What’s happening? Is Mum ok?

Principal Fintan takes over. “We have some exciting news. Your brother has just been born, Swifty.”

Adrenaline takes over. I feel like a motorcycle that’s just been kick-started. “W-w-we gotta g-g-go!” I yell powerfully, still stuttering.

“To the hospital!” my grandma yells, suddenly alive with fiery energy.

. . . to be continued in the June 2021 issue of Stone Soup.

Ariana Kralicek
Ariana Kralicek, 12
Auckland, New Zealand

Sage Millen
Sage Millen, 13
Vancouver, Canada

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